Homosexuality 101: What Every, Therapist, Parent, and Homosexual Should Know
Homosexuality 101: What Every, Therapist, Parent, and Homosexual Should Know
Julie Harren Hamilton, Ph.D.
Two myths about homosexuality are popular in our culture: that people are born homosexual and that change of sexual orientation is not possible. Yet the research reveals the opposite. While most people do not choose their attractions, the research is also clear that people are not simply born homosexual. Researchers on both sides of the debate recognize that homosexuality is not simply a matter of biology. In fact, in 2008 the American Psychological Association (APA) updated its information on homosexuality in a document entitled “Answers to Your Questions for a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality.” In an older document they had claimed that homosexuality was mostly biological in origin, but in this revised document, they admitted,
“There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.” (APA, 2008, p.2)
Further, twin studies make clear that people are not simply born gay. Studies of identical twins reveal concordance rates of 20% for male twins (Whitehead, 2010). If homosexuality were biologically based, the percentage would be much higher. Identical twins share the same biological make-up, yet the majority of the time they differ in sexual orientation.
What, then, are some possible causes of homosexual attractions?  These feelings typically stem from a combination of temperamental factors and environmental factors that occur in a child’s life. According to Whitehead and Whitehead (1999), “Human behavior is determined by both nature and nurture. Without genes, you can’t act in the environment at all. But without the environment your genes have nothing on which to act” (p. 10). One way of understanding this combination might be expressed in the following equation:
Parents + Peers + Experiences = Environment
Genes + Brain Wiring + Prenatal Hormonal Environment = Temperament
Environment + Temperament = Homosexual Orientation
(D. Blakeslee, personal communication, July 2007)
While environmental factors may include experiences of sexual abuse or other traumatic events, one theory is that a disruption in the development of gender identity is a very strong contributor to same-sex attractions (Moberly, 1983). Gender identity refers to a person’s view of his or her own gender; that is, his or her sense of masculinity or femininity. Gender identity is formed through the relationships that a child has with the same-sex parent and same-sex peers (Nicolosi & Nicolosi, 2001).
The process of gender identification begins approximately between ages one and a half and three years old. For boys, it is during this phase that they begin to move from their primary attachment with the mother to seeking out a deeper attachment with the father. For males, the relationship between a boy and his father is the initial source of developing a secure gender identity. It is through the father-son relationship that a boy discovers what he needs to know about being male, including who he is as a boy, how boys act, how they interact with others, and so forth. As the father spends time with the son, shows interest in the son, and gives the son affirmation and affection, the father imparts to the son a sense of masculinity. The boy begins to develop a sense of his own gender by understanding himself in relation to his father (Nicolosi & Nicolosi, 2001).
When the child reaches the age of five, he begins to face another task, that is, to begin to attach to same-sex peers. At this age, he starts school and begins to look to the other boys to answer the same questions that his dad has been answering. He looks to the other boys to discover how they walk, how they talk, how they play, and how he measures up in relation to them. He seeks to be included, accepted, and acknowledged. Through the relationships he forms with other boys, he continues to gain a sense of masculinity, discovering more about other boys and therefore more about himself as a boy (Nicolosi & Nicolosi, 2001).
During the early years of elementary school, children are not usually very interested in playing with members of the opposite sex. They desire to spend time with members of the same sex. This is a very necessary stage of development, because a person cannot be interested in the opposite sex or in others, until he or she first understands himself or herself. Eventually, after many years of bonding with members of the same sex, the boy enters puberty. At this time he begins to turn his attention to the opposite sex. He becomes curious about the gender which is different from his own, the female gender. With the simultaneous emergence of puberty, this curiosity becomes a sexual interest and a desire for romantic connection with the opposite sex.
Conversely, for the child who will develop a homosexual orientation, this process does not happen. So, what happens in the development of gender identity that might lead a child to have same-sex attractions? Typically, for this child, there is something that prevents him from attaching to the father. Either he does not have a father or a father figure, or he does not have a father who he perceives as safe and/or welcoming. Of course, there are many children who grow up without fathers and yet do not develop a homosexual orientation. In addition, there are many children who have loving fathers, yet still become homosexually oriented. This is due to the fact that there are various factors that contribute to a homosexual orientation. Human development is very complex and includes events, as well as perceptions about the events.
Perceptions are very important. Perceptions are more powerful than what actually happens, because perceptions become that person’s reality. Perceptions are influenced by temperament. For example, a child with a more sensitive temperament might perceive rejection even when rejection is not intended. Temperament is the biological contributor; however, temperament alone is not enough to create a homosexual orientation. The temperament type must be met with the right environmental factors in order to produce same-sex attractions. Typically the child who will later develop same-sex attractions is temperamentally sensitive, observant, intelligent, and is sometimes more artistic than athletic. This child often tends to personalize and internalize experiences and observations (Nicolosi & Nicolosi, 2001; Nicolosi, 2009a).
So, if a child perceives that his father does not want a relationship with him, that child might try a few times to connect with his father, but will eventually retract in self-protection. This is called defensive detachment. Upon sensing rejection, the boy chooses to reject the father in return. He detaches from the father and even what the father represents, which is masculinity (Moberly, 1983). Typically at this point, he will stay connected to the mother, continuing to receive feminine input. Usually he is also surrounded by other female figures, such as a sister, an aunt, or a grandmother. So at a time when he is craving masculine input and seeking to understand himself in terms of his male identity, he instead experiences on-going female connections and begins to develop a sense of the feminine.
By the time this child enters school, he often has a difficult time relating with other boys. Either he is just more comfortable with girls, who are more familiar to him, or he is intimidated by boys. Often this child sees himself as different from the other boys. So he may hold back from bonding with them. If he has developed any feminine mannerisms, he might also be rejected by the other boys and quite possibly even ridiculed. He is craving acceptance from boys and continues to need this acceptance, though the need goes unmet. The boy watches the other boys from afar, he longs to be noticed by them, and included by them, yet he remains with girls, further gaining a sense of the feminine while deeply craving the masculine.
This child typically spends his elementary school years learning about femininity while craving to understand masculinity. Specifically, he desires to understand himself in terms of his own masculine identity. Yet, he does not assimilate with the same sex parent or same-sex peers, so he does not acquire a masculine identity. He associates with the feminine, which is his primary source of input. He does not develop a secure gender identity. So by the time this child reaches puberty, the craving for male input has grown and intensified. At this time in his life he is not curious about or interested in the opposite sex. He already knows all about the opposite sex– they are quite familiar to him. What he is craving to know about is his own gender. He still deeply longs to know about boys. He longs to experience connections with males. This emotional need, the need for same-sex love, which has gone unmet, now begins to take on a sexual form. His unsatisfied cravings for male love become romantic cravings with the emergence of puberty (Nicolosi & Nicolosi, 2001).
To this child, it feels very natural that he longs for male love. In fact, he typically thinks that he was born that way, having craved male love for as long as he can remember. Indeed, he has craved this love most of his life. However, initially it was not a sexual craving. Instead, it was an emotional craving, a legitimate need for non-sexual love, an emotional need that has become sexualized.
The female development of homosexuality is a bit more complex. As with the male development, there are a number of factors that can contribute. For some women who end up with same-sex attractions, the development is similar to the male development previously described. For others, negative perceptions regarding femininity may lead to an internal detachment from their own femininity. For example, if a girl watches her father abuse her mother, the girl might conclude that to be feminine is to be a victim or to be weak. At an early age she might make an unconscious decision to detach from her female identity. She might detach from her own gender in an effort to protect herself from the perceived harmful effects of being female (Hallman, 2008).
Sexual abuse is another factor that can contribute to a homosexual orientation for both men and women. Women who are sexually abused may come to see men as unsafe, and lesbianism becomes a way of protecting against further hurt from males. For some women there might be an emotional disconnection from the mother, and lesbianism becomes a search for motherly love. For other women, same-sex attractions may not initially be present, but may later develop as a result of entering into a non-sexual friendship which becomes emotionally dependant. An emotionally dependent relationship is one in which two people seek to have their needs met by one another. It is a relationship in which healthy boundaries are not in place (Rentzel, 1990). The absence of appropriate emotional boundaries can then lead to a violation of physical boundaries.
For any of these reasons listed above, and in combination with other factors, same-sex attractions may develop. To the one who has these feelings, they are often very real and very strong. There are many people who find themselves attracted to members of the same-sex and yet do not want those attractions. For those who are dissatisfied with their sexual orientation, it should be noted that change is indeed possible. Research studies have revealed that change of sexual identity, behavior, and even orientation does take place for some people (see Spitzer, 2003; Byrd & Nicolosi, 2002; Jones & Yarhouse, 2007). It is not a quick or easy process, but as with any other therapeutic issue, varying degrees of change are achievable through therapy and other means.
Many homosexuals are dissatisfied with their homosexual orientation. The inaccurate concept that homosexuality is solely biological is extremely misleading and even harmful to those who desire another option for their lives. In our culture, the myth that people are simply “born homosexual and cannot change” leads many dissatisfied homosexuals to feel hopeless about their lives. On the other hand, however, when people become educated about this issue and begin to understand some of the contributing factors, they realize that then do have options and are better able to make informed decisions about their lives. Accurate information and widespread education on this issue are life-changing to those who want to better understand themselves or their family members.
American Psychological Association (APA) Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns (2008). Answers to your questions for a better understanding of sexual orientation & homosexuality. Retrieved fromhttp://www.apa.org/topics/sexuality/sorientation.pdf
Byrd, A. D., & Nicolosi, J (2002). A meta-analytic review of the treatment of homosexuality. Psychological Reports, 90, 1139-152.
Hallman, J. (2008). The heart of female same-sex attraction: A comprehensive counseling resource. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Harren, J. (2006, November). Homosexuality 101: What every therapist, parent, and homosexual should know. Paper presented at the meeting of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, Orlando Florida.
Nicolosi, J. & Nicolosi, L. A. (2001). Preventing homosexuality in today’s youth. InterVarsity Press.
Nicolosi, J. (2009a). Shame and attachment loss: The practical work of reparative therapy. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Rentzel, L.T. (1990). Emotional dependency. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Spitzer, R. L. (2003). Can some gay men and lesbians change their sexual orientation? 200 participants reporting a change from homosexual to heterosexual orientation. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32:5, 403-417.
Whitehead, N. & Whitehead, B. (1999). My genes made me do it: A scientific look at sexual orientation. Lafayette, LA: Huntington House Publishers.
Whitehead, N. (2010). Genetic influence on SSA significantly overestimated? Retrieved from http://www.mygenes.co.nz/kaminsky.html.
The remainder of this paper is excerpted from Harren, 2006.